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It’s a good thing Bill Clarkson doesn’t work in the film industry. Because, if he won an Oscar, his thank-you list might last longer than the entire ceremony.

San Ramon’s longest-tenured mayor — who was termed out in November after nine years as the city’s top elected official — thanked 139 people, after recognizing 22 “outstanding” past and present city leaders.

“There are far too many to name them all here, but I will attempt to recognize a few” Clarkson wrote, in a letter on the city website he also sent to supporters. “Please let me know who is missing so I can add them to our history.”

Clarkson makes clear his time in office was a team effort, frequently using words like ‘collaboration,” “community” and “involved.”

“The politics in San Ramon were different,” Clarkson said, after pulling a book from the many full shelves behind him, joking he wasn’t just using a Zoom-generated background to make him look more scholarly. “There were some ugly things going on. There were two camps. Things were overly political. You can have sharp differences in policy, and at 5 o’clock you can go out and get a beer together, but you couldn’t do that anymore.”

“I tried to find ways to work together,” Clarkson said. “I don’t mean compromise your principles. It’s all about finding common ground.”

A decade of accomplishments

Not that Clarkson and colleagues became drinking buddies. But the 68-year-old real estate broker — co-owner of Clarkson Santoro Inc. with son-in-law Tony Santoro — is proud of what he and the city accomplished in nearly a decade of service.

“It’s the safest city in California, and the ninth safest in the country in the 2019 Safewise survey,” Clarkson said. “We’re almost always in the top 20. The community over the years has become a Mecca for families who value education. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Clarkson and his family came to San Ramon in 1978, moving to what was then the city’s northern residential border. Technically, it wasn’t even a city yet, with incorporation coming five years later.

“If I walked out my front door, there was empty space for four miles, to the south of Danville,” Clarkson said. “I would step over to the fence and say hello to the cows.”

“I tried to find ways to work together. I don’t mean compromise your principles. It’s all about finding common ground.”

Bill Clarkson

The cow pasture eventually became Bishop Ranch, the sprawling 585-acre business park and corporate home to companies like Chevron, AT&T, and PG&E. Where cows once stood became the commute destination for about 30,000 employees.

Clarkson was elected to the San Ramon Valley Unified Schol District board in 1998, where he remained until 2010, the year before he was first elected mayor.

“I always wanted to be involved with the city,” Clarkson said. “I’m proud of what we accomplished as a whole council, moving to a more collaborative environment. People were received warmly by the council; it was a friendly environment. We truly tried to engage the entire community. I really tried to meet as many people as I could.”

It’s hard to argue Clarkson didn’t leave the city in better shape than when he became mayor. The long-awaited downtown area finally started taking shape, with the building of the new civic center on the southern edge of San Ramon Central Park. The city expanded and renovated the main library and, with Diablo Valley College, opened a third branch to the public. The city also acquired hundreds of acres of open space on its western border and helped protect thousands more in Tassajara Valley.

His proudest moment

But Clarkson is particularly proud of the CityWalk project in Bishop Ranch, a walking district tying together the city’s core: the city center, Central Park, the main library, smaller park spaces, retail centers and Bishop Ranch businesses, with its “spine” the Iron Horse Trail. CityWalk will eventually include a new hotel and up to 4,500 units of new housing on either side of Bollinger Canyon Drive, connected by a pedestrian bridge arcing over traffic.

“He was the driving force behind it,” said Joe Gorton, who has been San Ramon’s city manager since 2017 and, before that, was its police chief. “The first thing I heard from Bill when I became city manager was about CityWalk. He was excited. I hadn’t even found my office yet and he was telling me all about it.”

“Bill is, by far, one of the best collaborators I have ever worked with,” Gorton said. “He can bring a team together on almost anything and that is how many of the great things the city did over the past several years got accomplished. It was a pleasure to work for someone with such vision.”

Clarkson wants the city to swing for the fences. San Ramon may have waited for decades for its downtown, but Clarkson wants the wait to be worth it.

“We’d go to San Francisco and ask ourselves ‘How do we create a nice walking space in San Ramon?’ Clarkson said. “We’d see Washington Square, Delores Park … as the years go by, it’s going to be fairly dense. It’s going to be a cool place to hang out.”

Clarkson stresses he’s not retired. Though he could run for another council seat, he won’t, not wanting to get in the way of someone else’s progress.

“I’m happy to give advice to people wanting to get involved,” said Clarkson, who plans to do his San Ramon history tours again, once COVID-19 allows for people to safely gather again. “I’m blessed. The things I enjoy doing don’t have an expiration date.”